More on Florida Education Plan: Just Bunk?

February 17th, 2011 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

To follow up on posts by colleague Tracy Dingmann and myself on Florida’s education plan:

Tracy is spot-on that the Journal’s editorial endorsement of the Florida plan is likely due to the fact that the plan is the darling of the Rio Grande Foundation. (And I agree that Leslie Linthicum’s reality-based UpFront column the day after was indeed “palate-cleansing.”)

Aside from the misuse of scarce funds issue, it’s interesting that promotion of the Florida plan can be traced up the family tree from the New Mexico-based Rio Grande Foundation to the Heritage Foundation, a national dispenser of conservative-agenda ideas.

The Journal’s endorsement of the Florida plan is more akin to embracing an ideology than looking out for New Mexico’s children, especially when one considers the Florida plan is recipient of one of the National Educational Policy Center’s “Bunkum Awards” for 2010, a prize for “dreadful education research”.

The center gave an “If I Say It Enough, Will It Still Be Untrue?” award to the Heritage Foundation research report about the Florida plan by Matthew Ladner and Lindsey Burke.  According to the Columbia University professor who critiqued that report, the think tank’s research contains “serious flaws” that “call into question the report’s conclusions.” The introduction to the review, which can be read in full here, says:

The Heritage Foundation report, Closing the Racial Achievement Gap: Learning from Florida’s Reforms, endorses a set of policies from Florida: vouchers funded by tax credits, charter schools, online education, performance-based teacher pay, grading of schools and districts primarily based on test scores of students, test-based grade retention, and alternative teacher certification. The report claims that Florida’s student achievement trends improved and gaps were substantially reduced for Black and Hispanic students because of this package of reforms. Based on these purported successes, it recommends adopting these reforms in other states.

However, the central analysis compares average test scores of students in the nation versus Florida without considering key group differences, an oversight that leads to erroneous causal interpretations on effects of reforms using purely descriptive data. The report further ignores group differences resulting from the state’s mandatory grade retention policy for the weakest readers in grade 3. This policy-driven increase in grade retention rates spuriously inflated the average scores of grade 4 students on state and national assessments, making racial achievement gaps narrower. The report also fails to examine test score data on all subjects and grade levels, instead relying only on grade 4 reading, which showed the most positive results. Finally, although a great deal is known about the reform policies the report promotes, it neglects this research literature. These serious flaws call into question the report’s conclusions.

On the National Education Policy Center’s Web site, the group notes that Ladner has had success “in repackaging in many different venues and media his spurious claim that a series of Florida reforms, including tax vouchers and grade retention, ‘caused’ racial achievement gaps to narrow in the Sunshine State.”

Success, indeed, that extends now into New Mexico and on the pages of the Albuquerque Journal.

Lest one think the National Education Policy Center is simply out to discredit conservative think tanks, consider that NEPC also gave a “Bunkum Award” to an initiative by the Obama administration.

Heath Haussamen’s web site and a column on it by educator Michael L. Hays brought my attention to the Bunkum awards. Reading the comments posted on Hays’ column offers insight into extent of the role the Rio Grande Foundation has in the New Mexico education discussion.

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